2017 Greatest Hits #10: Stop the Bleeding

(During December we will be reprising some of  “2017’s greatest hits” from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: 2017 Greatest Hits.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

By Mike Stone

Waco, we have a problem.  A recent Trib article (Waco Economy Staggers Despite Promising Signs) highlighted the residential construction boom our city is experiencing, and the surging price of homes due to all of the newly constructed and remodeled homes being built. It is an accurate claim resulting from numerous factors, all of which benefit our city.  However, when examining residential construction data for the neighborhoods surrounding downtown we see the opposite.

The Brook Oaks, Carver, Northeast Riverside, and Sanger Heights neighborhoods all possess a long history of strong people, traditions and homes that have shaped the core of our city. It is a core that’s bleeding, because in the past decade we have lost more homes than have been built.  As a result, the people power and economic power of these communities lessen.

According to the last ten years’ worth of data from the City of Waco Permits Department, there have been 334 residential demolitions in these neighborhoods but only 118 new homes permitted.  This is in spite of the efforts of numerous Wacoans who have chosen to build homes; private developments such as Cameron Heights; and the work of local non-profit home builders, including Waco Community Development, Waco Habitat and Neighborworks Waco.

There is a myriad of reasons for the demolition of homes in the past decade.  They include faulty wiring, poor maintenance, fallen trees, and fires.  Just next to our office, we lost a 90 year old home due to lightning.  The house was hit twice igniting the insulation and destroying the house within minutes.

Losing homes from these neighborhoods will continue as the homes age, but the real problem is the low volume of newly constructed of homes in these areas.  We need more homes built to stop the bleeding.

New construction is occurring in concentrated areas of new subdivisions but the growth is on the west side of town far from these core neighborhoods.  This strategy of concentrated construction works well for the builders and the buyers because it gives numerous options to create a home within a community.

A similar strategy has been used in the Brook Oaks neighborhood. Over the past 15 years, the community has experienced a focused effort by numerous builders to construct homes in a targeted area.  These efforts were able to effectively slow and almost stop the bleeding within this core of the city neighborhood as shown in the chart below.

In the focus area of Brook Oaks, twenty-six homes were built to replace the 27 homes that were demolished.  As opposed to the non-focus area of Brook Oaks where only fourteen homes were built to replace 32 homes that were demolished.

The City of Waco has continued to combat this bleeding with funds from The Federal HUD program.  Many of the homes built in the focus area were the result of this investment.  A concern is if the current budget proposals from Washington D.C. are followed, this effort will be dramatically curtailed and the bleeding will increase.  The current federal budget proposals include major cuts to these HUD programs.

We need more homes being built and we need creative solutions to help encourage more new construction in these neighborhoods.  How do we entice other builders to build in these core neighborhoods?  How do we expand the work the non-profit builders are doing?  How do we entice more families to buy more homes in core of the city neighborhood?  How do we stop the bleeding?

Waco, we have been tasked with making sure the core neighborhoods of our city thrive. It is my belief that this can be done though a collective effort to build homes in one focus area at a time.  Let us band together to stop the bleeding.  Let us go help somebody!

Mike Stone has been the Executive Director of Waco Community Development since November of 2012.  Waco Community Development has built 57 new homes in Waco and remodeled 19 homes in their efforts to inspire and cultivate healthy neighborhoods.  When not working, you won’t find him, as he will be in the woods somewhere that cell phones don’t work.


How Pride, Persistence, and Programs Tackle PTSD

By Maggie McCarthy

Texans are a fierce bunch. I witnessed this first-hand when the local Veterans hospital was under threat of closure in 2003. The Central Texas community mobilized, a blue-ribbon group was formed, Veterans organized and the citizenry signed up to write letters and plead with Congressmen.

Their red-blooded pride was understandable as the hospital had served Waco and throngs of returning military members since 1932. The campus, with its sturdy brick buildings and handsome terracotta tile roofs, were placed at a bucolic green landscape to allow those suffering the wounds of war to receive health care and comfort as they grappled with their war-weary experiences. It was thought that simply strolling around the grassy loop of buildings could have a therapeutic benefit.

This quest to provide relief to those who bore the brunt of battle, including the psychological impact, is part of the mission that continues today. But back in 2003, it was touch and go.

Luckily, pride, planning, and persistence prevailed. Not only was the hospital spared from the wrecking ball, some parts emerged in a new and improved rendition.  The mission was galvanized by a bi-partisan effort to not only keep the campus intact, but to provide specialized services for new and emerging problems.

The Iraq war was less than two years old, but those in active combat were already dealing with the devastation of improvised explosive devices (IED). Unlike their forefathers, who knew the deadly force of bomb blasts, modern military were equipped with protective armor that kept them alive, but with brain damage that might not show up until much later, a condition now known as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

In addition to the physical ills, Veterans carried home the psychological scars of war that were heavier than any of the armor and ammo they could lug. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and even thoughts of suicide would need special treatment and approaches.

For these men and women, there was a destination that could help probe solutions to these vexing problems that surfaced. But it required highly trained researchers who sought out the best approaches, gathered the data, field tested the theories and shared results in ways that advanced mental health care.

Waco should be proud to have such a place that is a hub of mental health researchers and practitioners. It is called the Center of Excellence for Returning War Veterans and it is part of the VA healthcare system (regionally called VISN 17).

Today, Building 93 on the historic campus maintains it tranquil and traditional exterior, but inside there is a buzz of activity from some 45 individuals who specialize in veteran mental health.  One of only three Centers of Excellence in the country, the Waco VA campus was chosen by Congress in 2006 to conduct specialty research on our country’s returning Post-9/11 veteran population, which include Veterans enlisted in any of the military branches during the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND) campaigns. The signature research focus is PTSD.

There are more than 35,000 unique OEF/OIF/OND Veterans registered in the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System (CTVHCS) and more than 40,000 active duty military service members in the area. An additional 300,000-plus family members (including spouses and children, retirees, and survivors of deceased Veterans) are touched by military matters, according to a recent Fort Hood census.

In addition to grant support from the Department of Defense (DoD) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Center collaborates with Texas A&M and Baylor University, and the Central Texas Veterans Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps facilitate a broad spectrum of Veterans research.

Few people may know the quiet work that is done to understand, and help, those who served. But I, for one, am glad that Waco persevered in saving the hospital. The researchers who daily strive to probe, problem solve and publish their findings may help future generations of Veterans. Then, they too can become the fierce defenders of the people and places that heal.

Maggie McCarthy is the Executive Director of the Central Texas Veterans Research Center and has spent more than 25 years managing and consulting with nonprofit organizations, with an emphasis on philanthropic and grant management foundations. As a volunteer, she has helped to support Veterans organizations and the formation of the Veterans One Stop in Waco, Texas.  To learn more about CTVRC please visit, www.ctvrf.org.  

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.




Wanting to Work in Waco

By Mallory Herridge

Ten students walked across a stage Friday, May 19, with hope radiating in their confident smiles, ready for new beginnings.  For eight weeks these students have been a part of Gateway, a rapid-workforce development program offered through Skillpoint Alliance of Waco, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in Austin, TX that expanded to the Waco area in 2016.

Skillpoint works to connect people to services and industries to achieve self-sufficiency goals.  We focus on serving the unemployed or underemployed, specifically (a) opportunity youth (16-24 year-olds who are disconnected from education and employment), and (b) individuals with barriers to employment, including those who have not completed a high school education and those who have been involved in the criminal justice system.

Gateway is the cornerstone program of Skillpoint Alliance preparing participants to earn industry-recognized certificates, at no cost to the participant, in 4-12 weeks in high-demand industry fields such as Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA), HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and related course extensions. The ultimate goal is for each certification to provide entry to a career that will lead to upward mobility and increased wages.

On Friday, our graduates celebrated the completion of their HVAC Gateway program certificate, including their NCCER certification, EPA 608 exam, TDLR HVAC Technician registration, OSHA 10 certification and First Aid/CPR Certifications.  But we also celebrated their eight-week commitment and practice of punctuality, job etiquette, resume prep, interview practice, professional communication and team work.

Per Skillpoint tradition, after receiving their graduation certificates, we asked family and friends to come to the stage, stand next to our graduates, and recite the following motto together:

“I affirm that the skills and knowledge gained through the Gateway Program will be utilized to the best of my abilities.  I will help others in my community as I am able.  I am a person of value and have gifts and talents to offer.  I am proud of my accomplishments and look forward to the prosperity of my future.”

As family members turned each graduate’s tassel, I thought about how strongly these students desire not just a job, but a career that they can be proud of and that will enable them to sufficiently support their families.  I thought about how the graduates changed since starting on March 27th. Our shiest, youngest student confidently approached a HVAC employer after the ceremony, networking with her and sharing his career goals. One of our students with multiple offenses on his record had perfect attendance in our class and the Director of Probation showed up to graduation to support him.

I thought about our partner agencies such as Goodwill, Caritas, Heart of Texas Workforce Solutions, Esther’s Closet, Centex African American Chamber of Commerce, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Maker’s Edge and Communities In Schools that provided resources and support to our students and program in various ways during the class.

I looked around the room and saw employers at graduation who had also taken time to visit our class to share about their companies and what they look for in employees.

As our students thanked them for attending, they were not thanking a stranger and the employers were not just seeing a resume with potential barriers, they were seeing an individual committed to a better life for themselves and their family.

Waco is full of people of value that desire to work.  We hope many of our students gain confidence to pursue further training at TSTC or MCC but we look forward to seeing how ALL of our students use Skillpoint Alliance Waco as a stepping stone to start the career and life path of their dreams.

*Special thanks to Rapoport Foundation and Cooper Foundation for their generous gifts and support. Skillpoint Waco will soon expand program offerings to include the Empower program, our 6-weeks digital proficiency classes provided in both Spanish and English and offered at no-cost.

Mallory Herridge is the Waco Program Director for Skillpoint Alliance.  She has lived in Waco since 2002 earning her Bachelor’s degree as well as Master of Social Work (2008) from the Diana Garland School of Social Work and Master of Divinity (2010) degree from Truett Seminary at Baylor University. Prior to joining Skillpoint Alliance, Mallory worked with the Baylor Texas Hunger Initiative utilizing her experiences in social work, community organizing and community building to further public-private partnerships and reduce hunger in Texas. Mallory also served as a Program Manager through Communities In Schools (CIS) creating unique partnerships and collaborations surrounding students with a community of support to success in school. Mallory enjoys being a new mom, and attending her husband’s Mentalism shows at the Hippodrome. Contact Mallory by phone at 254.732.0620 or by email at mherridge@skillpointalliance.org.  

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


Time to activate our mediocre super powers

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Several years ago my friend Marianne Stambaugh and I were enjoying the Baylor Homecoming parade when the string of snazzy convertibles carrying the “Outstanding Young Alumni” rolled past.  When Marianne and I are together almost everything is funny to us, and this struck us as particularly hilarious. We immediately decided that we would start a group called “Mediocre Middle-Aged Alumni.”   Our plan was to insert ourselves in the parade directly behind the Outstanding Young Alumni. We would ride in a caravan of old pick-up trucks, a happy multitude of grey-headed men and women, comfortable in our stretchy pants and matching green and gold “MMAA” T-shirts, sharing some nice snacks, and waving contentedly at the homecoming crowd.

I’m not knocking outstanding people at all.  Lord knows we need them. We need some people who poke their heads up above the crowd and see new sights and dream new dreams. We need the people who use their energy, smarts, originality, creativity, hard-headedness or whatever it takes to accomplish things that impress the rest of us.  Outstanding people deserve to be celebrated.  They are inspiring!

I’ll admit though, that sometimes when I hear about all the brilliant things the outstanding people are doing, it makes me want to take a nap.  I don’t have the time or energy to keep up with that.  Anyway, it sounds like they have it under control… Don’t we have anything to eat in this house?… I wonder what’s on TV?

In that moment, as inspiration fades in the face of inertia, it’s important to remember that when it comes to making the world – and Waco – a better place, the real power is not with the few “outstanding” ones in the convertibles, it is with us plain old folks in the pick-up trucks. Yes, we ordinary folks who make up the big middle section of the bell-curve of humanity are the ones who hold most of the cards – and most of the responsibility.

For example, the Keep Waco Beautiful awards program is coming up soon. They will be recognizing individuals and groups who have worked especially hard to keep our city clean and beautiful.  There are some outstanding individuals who will be recognized, and deservedly so.

Imagine, though, how much cleaner and more beautiful our city would be if, in addition to the outstanding work these few people are doing, a whole herd of us middle-of-the-pack folks consistently did just a little bit of mediocre work.  What if 10,000 of us, for example, made it a habit to pick up just one small bag of trash a week.  Our city would go from litter full to litter free!  (Of course the best thing would be if ALL of us in the middle of the bell curve had the habit of disposing of trash properly in the first place.)

The key word is habit.  Habits are what give the multitude of us garden-variety folks our super powers.  Occasional big efforts are admirable and exciting, but, honestly, it is the everyday habits of the majority of us average folks that have the potential for making the biggest difference.  The water wears away the stone not in one big splash, but by constantly dripping on the same place for a long time.

Small positive behaviors, carried out regularly by a bunch of us run-of-the-mill people can have a bigger effect on the health of our community than occasional heroic efforts by a few.  Here are some examples of the kinds of things we could easily be doing…

Take a walk in the neighborhood once a week or more. – If we all get in this habit we will end up with healthier, safer neighborhoods where we know each other better.  Those kinds of neighborhoods are the building blocks of strong cities.

Lean toward local. – We don’t all have to take a blood oath to never set foot in a big box store or a chain restaurant, but we can get in the habit of making local restaurants and stores our default choice.  Consistently patronizing our local businesses helps them thrive and gives our community it’s unique flavor.

Volunteer a little and give a little – Volunteer for just an hour, but do it consistently once a month or once a week.  Even the smallest effort – picking up one bag of trash – done consistently makes a difference.  Give $2 or $3 a week to an organization you care about, but give it every week.  It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment – an hour or two a month of consistent volunteering or a few dollars a month of consistent giving adds up when enough of us do it.

Our power as members of the middle of the bell curve is not in doing an exhausting amount of good, it is in more of us making a habit of doing a very reasonable amount of good consistently.

So thank you outstanding folks!  We appreciate your herculean efforts on our behalf.  Now the rest of us have few little things to get done before we take our naps!

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she works at Baylor, and helps out with Act locally Waco. She likes to walk. If you see her, honk and wave and say “hi!” 

 The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.